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Health officer - Schools little help in teen pregnancy fight

March 15, 2006|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

Washington County Health Officer William Christoffel criticized the Board of Education on Tuesday, saying the school system is providing little cooperation in efforts to reduce the county's high teen pregnancy rate.

Christoffel said the number of teens having babies increased by 21 in 2004, the last year for which data is available.

Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook prompted Christoffel's remarks during a Health Department budget presentation by asking if the School Board was doing anything to lower the number of teens giving birth.

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"That's my tongue I'm biting," Christoffel said.

"Is that a yes or a no?" Snook said.

Christoffel said it was a "no."

"So they're not doing anything?" Snook asked.

"Our relationship with the School Board has been difficult to say the least," Christoffel said.

In 2004, 206 teens between the ages of 15 and 19 gave birth. That's up from the 185 teens who had babies in 2003.

Christoffel said Williamsport High School - the county's fourth-largest high school with 932 students - had 15 pregnant students at the beginning of the school year.

Countywide, 39 high school teens are pregnant and three middle school students are pregnant, he said. Nine high school students have given birth this year, he said.

School Board member W. Edward Forrest said Tuesday night that teen pregnancy was a community issue, not just a school system issue. He said a report on teen pregnancy, released last October, didn't point the finger on who's to blame for the problem.

"Just for me, personally, one of the issues from the report was this shouldn't be a blame game, and so while I think the Board of Education has a role in addressing this issue, this is a community problem," Forrest said.

Christoffel stated several occasions in which he felt the school board wasn't responsive to teen pregnancy prevention efforts.

He said health officials asked to have two or three discussions with the school system about teen pregnancy, but the request resulted in very little conversation. A presentation to ninth-grade students was supposed to be scheduled last November, but it just recently was fully scheduled, he said.

A Washington County Teen Pregnancy Task Force member asked to sit in on a school system curriculum meeting but was told it was private, Christoffel said.

Last year, the Health Department asked the School Board to update its family life curriculum to include counseling teens about the use of condoms, birth control pills and other forms of contraception to combat teen pregnancy.

Christoffel said the School Board has not yet done that.

"So, our relationship with them has not been very good," he said.

Christoffel asked the commissioners to increase the Health Department's teen pregnancy budget by $134,097. That money will possibly go toward starting a Wellness Center at Williamsport High School, he said.

The teen pregnancy budget also would pay for a nurse practitioner at Elgin Station Community Center for additional teen clinical services, for medication and supplies such as contraceptives, and for a "mass social marketing campaign" to increase teen pregnancy awareness, improve communication between parents and teens and educate teens about sexual responsibility, abstinence and available clinical services, according to the proposed budget.

- Staff writer Karen Hanna contributed to this story.

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